The Wild East

A fire in an olive grove near the Palestinian village of Burin in the northern West Bank by the Israeli settlement of Yitzhar, after an attack by settlers, on October 16, 2019.

The violent incidents near the settlement of Yitzhar in recent days managed to momentarily divert public attention from the political impasse and focus it on the moral blockage in Israel’s respiratory tract – its military control over the Palestinian people. Senior army and police officers who were interviewed by Haaretz following the latest outburst of violence against soldiers painted a picture that ought to keep all Israelis awake at night. And dealing with it must top the agenda of anyone who aspires to halt the collapse of Israel’s democracy. The golem of the settlements has turned on its creator, and the state is powerless against it.

“The violence is the end result of the whole problem of the hilltop youth,” said a senior defense official very familiar with the settlements (Yaniv Kubovich, Haaretz, October 23). “It begins with ignoring the illegal outposts, attacks on Palestinians, attacks on Palestinian property, arson and vandalism. When it relates to Arabs, it’s easier to ignore it. But when soldiers are attacked, it comes up again.”

Judging by the statements of those who were interviewed, the incidents at Yitzhar are the tip of the iceberg of a much larger problem that everyone knows about, but nobody talks about openly. These defense officials said that settlement leaders ignore violence by hilltop youth against Palestinians, and even against Israeli policemen. Though they do denounce assaults on soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, the settlers still see the hilltop youth as part of the settlement enterprise. Moreover, the most extreme settlement leaders have had increasing influence over the government, to an extent that undermines the IDF’s status in the territories. As a result, the prevailing mood is that the territories are a kind of undefined area in which “anything goes.” Due to pressure from settlement leaders, those who were interviewed said, decisions are made that don’t stem solely from security considerations, but are meant to improve the settlers’ quality of life.

Following the incidents in Yitzhar, defense officials are likely to once again propose something that hasn’t been accepted in the past – opening a police station in Yitzhar (Amos Harel, Haaretz, October 23). The settlers will object, and it’s very likely that this proposal will never be implemented. But in any case, the problem goes far beyond Yitzhar, and the solution isn’t to increase the number of security personnel around the settlement’s illegal outposts. On the contrary, the solution is to evacuate and raze the illegal outposts and remove the hilltop youth from the area, and then to return to diplomatic negotiations that strive to find a way to separate into two states.

The Kahol Lavan party is headed by three former IDF chiefs of staff who know exactly what those senior defense officials were talking about: Violence is a necessary part of the settlement enterprise, from which the hilltop youth emerged. We must hope that Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz manages to form a government, and that his government will make dealing with the plague of the settlements and their violent outposts a top priority.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.